Aaron Murray or AJ McCarron?
It has become almost the SEC version of the great Manning-Brady debate. One has the numbers, the other has the rings.
There is one notable difference. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady meet for the 14th time today when the Denver Broncos visit the New England Patriots. Georgia's Murray and Alabama's McCarron have gone head-to-head only once, in last year's epic SEC (and de facto national) championship game. The outcome was fitting for the debate. Murray had the statistical upper hand -- 265 yards passing to McCarron's 162. But McCarron and Alabama won 32-28.
In an odd way, the lack of head-to-head meetings only makes the debate more difficult to score. It's a debate that's unending because the criteria can never be agreed upon.
The case for Murray:
Numbers. Lots and lots of big numbers. Staggering numbers. Murray went into Saturday night's game against Kentucky needing only 108 passing yards to reach 3,000 for the fourth time in his career. No other player in NCAA history has even done it three times.
Going into Saturday night's game, Murray already held SEC records for career passing yards (12,983), touchdown passes (117), completions (1,455) and total offense (13,337). Again, that doesn't count the Kentucky game, and he still has the Georgia Tech game and the bowl game to add to the numbers.
But if numbers alone defined a quarterback's success, Case Keenum would be greater than Brett Favre.
The case for McCarron.
Wins and championships. Alabama's win over
Chattanooga Saturday was McCarron's 36th career victory, an Alabama record. He already has two consecutive national championships, and is three wins away from his third. And if that happens, McCarron will finish his college career with a distinction that almost certainly will never be surpassed. He would have more national championships (three) than losses (two) over a three-year stretch. In both of those losses -- LSU in 2011, Texas A&M last year -- McCarron had potential game-winning touchdown passes intercepted inside the opponent's 5-yard line.
But if championships alone defined a quarterback's success, Tim Tebow would be greater than Peyton Manning.
So that brings us back to square one.
Murray or McCarron?
Here's one way of looking at it:
Which team would be better, Alabama with Murray or Georgia with McCarron? There's no way of ever knowing, of course. But do you think Alabama would have lost either of those BCS championship games with Murray playing instead of McCarron?
Yet, as great as Murray has been at times -- such as eight days ago against Auburn -- it's hard to imagine that McCarron would have been any less great.
Or, a variation of that:
Which quarterback would be more successful? Murray with a defense like Alabama's, or McCarron with a defense like Georgia's?
Quick, think of Murray's five most impressive single games. To me, the first two that come to mind are the Alabama game last year and the Auburn game this year. Both were losses.
Yet, how can anybody who knows anything about football pin those losses on Murray. In both cases, Georgia lost because Murray ran out of time.
In the Alabama game, the Bulldogs fell behind because cornerback Damian Swann bit on a play-action fake by McCarron and got beat by Amari Cooper with 3:15 to play. Yet, Murray still nearly pulled off the comeback and upset.
The Auburn game was even more heroic. Murray led the Bulldogs back from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take a 38-37 lead. The game-tying score came when Murray, seeing no one open, charged ahead and plunged for the goal line. Regardless your view of whether the ball broke the plain, the fact is Murray disregarded his own well being in an effort to win. Even after Ricardo Louis's miraculous touchdown catch on fourth-and-18, Murray still almost pulled out the victory.
To define Murray simply by his great stats or McCarron by his championships is an injustice to both players. Both are great players, and both are winners.
Neither has been fully appreciated for their greatness. It's not too late for that, you know.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org